Rising rates of chlamydia, the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country, have health care providers more vigilant than ever in screening those most at risk.
“It’s part of our routine” to offer chlamydia screenings to all women ages 16 to 24, said Dr. Alix Pose, quality assurance director at Optimus Healthcare. The company operates health clinics throughout Bridgeport, at several Stamford locations and in Stratford.
Optimus doctors are increasingly urging women to be screened for chlamydia at their annual gynecological exams, Pose said. About 66 percent of their patients ages 16 to 24 are currently screened. “Every year we’re increasing that rate,” she said.
Screenings are particularly important, she said, because being in an urban setting means “we have a more at-risk population.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.7 percent of those between the ages of 14 and 39 – 1.8 million people – have chlamydia. The data show that sexually active young women are more at risk than men, and that it is most prevalent among young African American women.
Chlamydia, which often has no symptoms and therefore can easily go undiagnosed, is on the rise in Connecticut too. In 2012, the most recent year for which CDC data is available, 13,065 cases were reported statewide, an increase of about 4 percent over the 12,519 cases reported in 2008.
Health experts say that early detection is the key to treating chlamydia. It can be treated easily at that point, but if left undiagnosed, it can cause major complications, including fertility problems and ectopic pregnancy. It also can be transferred from a pregnant mother to her baby during delivery, causing conjunctivitis in newborns, according to the CDC.
At the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center in New Haven, doctors have started offering screenings to all young women as part of its routine standard of care, said Heidi Biegel, program director of the clinic’s ob/gyn and perinatal departments. The center has locations throughout New Haven County.
“Women are much more accepting of the test if it is presented as a routine thing that we always do, rather than if we are approaching it with the judgment that ‘I think you are at high risk,’” said Biegel. She usually raises the topic with patients by saying something like, “Most women want to screen yearly for exposure to infection,” she said.
In 2012, the center screened 2,056 times for chlamydia and gonorrhea, another sexually transmitted disease. Those screenings resulted in 58 chlamydia diagnoses, more than twice the 25 gonorrhea diagnoses, she said.
The CDC currently recommends that all sexually active women age 25 and younger be screened, but it is an opt-in test, meaning women have to elect to be screened.
That could change, however. The CDC has started to explore a universal, opt-out screening, which would be given to all women except those who decide not to take it. Researchers found that an opt-out screening could be effective in diagnosing, and therefore treating, more cases, according to Brian Katzowitz, a communication specialist at the CDC.
CDC officials are interested in seeing a clinical study that tests the opt-out approach, but at this point no such study in the works, he said.